Riding the social media wave

Sometime in the last few days I passed 2000 followers on Twitter. I was keeping track because Paige Brown (@FromTheLabBench) wrote a great blog post when she hit 2000 followers, complete with a list of excellent Twitter etiquette tips. I’d recommend them to everyone – whether you’re just starting out or have been here for a while. A few of my favourites:

Tweet like you’re sharing a conversation over coffee with someone.
Don’t follow all the rules…developing your own style and your own rules is important.
Tweet honestly…Honest tweets make honest followers.

As I passed the 2k follower mark, I was thinking of something a science communication colleague had mentioned to me. She’d been to a science outreach workshop at which someone had said that social media is useless. I can understand this point of view from someone focused solely on research, but from someone interested in outreach? It boggles the mind.
I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation about how social media is useful in science – and what I’ve got from it personally. Note – your results may vary. 🙂
I joined Twitter in July 2011 after reading a blog post from the American Geophysical Union about why scientists should use Twitter. In fact, my first tweet was about that very post:
In the almost three years since then, I’ve met a range of people, developed new networks, learned about a variety of topics, and been involved in a series of projects – all because of Twitter. A few examples:
1. Our Canadian science policy series published in iPolitics last fall was initially developed through a Twitter conversation, and featured people I’ve only ‘met’ online but have yet to meet in person. Think the same thing would have happened over email? Probably not. Maybe over coffee – but then many of the people who wrote articles might not have been included in the first place.
2. Our Science Borealis blog aggregator was initially developed via the comments section of a blog post by Maryse de la Giroday, but Twitter really helped us spread the word, find subject editors and other volunteers, recruit blogs to syndicate on the site, and more. In under a year, we’ve gone from being Twitter newbies to having almost 1300 followers – and a voice in the Canadian and international science communication communities.
3. I’ve broadened my online network and contributed – or invited to contribute – to a range of sites, including Canadian Science Publishing (thanks Jenny!), Double X Science, Ladybits, rabble.ca, and iPolitics.
4. I’ve connected with a series of well-informed, keen groups who share their knowledge, ideas and information via Twitter. If I had to break it down, I’d say the main groups I follow include scientists, science communicators and outreach people, writers (especially nature writers) and artists (especially photographers), and political commentators. What print or online media outlet provides this variety of expertise, commentary and insight on a daily basis? While I also receive print magazines from The Explorers Journal, The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, Orion and Outpost, they satisfy my interests in particular niche markets, and don’t generally cover the broad range of topics that crosses my Twitter feed every day.
5. I’ve learned a lot from other experts about topics that interest me but aren’t my personal expertise. Just a small sampling:

6. I chat regularly with some ‘friends’ online – Alison, Aaron, Andrea, Linda, Alex…you know who you are. For someone who deals with a lot of health issues and doesn’t leave the house a lot, these conversations help me keep things on a more even keel than might happen otherwise.
7. Most importantly for me, Twitter is a place that welcomes my varied interests in a broad range of subjects. I can tweet about anything I’m interested in – and chat with people about those interests – without being called out for not being an ‘expert’ or not knowing the ‘lingo’. It’s a constant learning experience – and one that suits my polymath-like personality quite well.
So to that person who said that social media is basically useless – maybe you should give it a try. You might change your mind.

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7 thoughts on “Riding the social media wave”

  1. Sarah, excellent post! I feel the same way, I work in Landscape Horticulture and have always taken the organic and environmental approach to my work. I also am an artist, these two passions work perfectly together in my brain. I joined Twitter last year and I didn’t even know about hashtags! I just knew that I had to somehow connect with other ‘like’ minded people about the science of this planet & it’s life or I would go crazy just reading the newspaper every morning about what was happening to science in this crazy country. You were one of the first people I ‘followed’ and you were one of my first ‘followers’. I am not up to your numbers yet, but I keep my ‘Lists’ up so I can stay connected with Tweets. It’s amazing how Twitter has changed me. For the first time I don’t feel as though I am speaking to a wall about environmental issues. For the first time I feel like there are others out there on this planet who have the same passions and want to speak out about the same issues and daily events. I realized about 5 or 6 months into Twitter how much hope had been restored in my life, I was not alone, I was not the only person who felt the way I do about democracy, science and the environment and Twitter was taking me on that path of hope. I was not depressed this past winter because of Ottawa. Instead I learned more hashtags! Like you, Twitter has for me opened a whole new world of people that I will forever be thankful to have met and you are one of them, blogging just isn’t enough and Twitter has filled the void, who woulda thought? Thank you so much, I am so glad I met you and it was because of Twitter.

    • Yes, Twitter can definitely be about building community! Glad you get something out of our virtual connection.
      One thing I also like about it is that I can follow/engage with people whose views I don’t necessarily share, but they challenge me (and hopefully I challenge them) to see things differently.

  2. OK; I Facebok, I blog (http://itstheecologystupid.com, though that title is likely to change soon), but I really do not “get” twitter. I signed up for Twitter recently, and since then I left precisely one Tweet. Maybe I am gettign old, but Twitter just seems like the last straw in the ever-growing cacaphony of digital noise that demands an increasing amount of our limited human attention.
    So I guess you can colour me “waiting to be convinced”.

    • I think it depends what you’re looking for. I used to think Twitter was the stupidest thing ever – who wants to know what you had for breakfast, or what you’re doing after work? Then I realized that it all depends on who you follow. You don’t even have to tweet if you’re not into it – you can just create a series of ‘lists’ on particular topics that interest you, and follow those for updates and new ideas.
      I’m also on FB, but I find I use it less and less – Twitter allows me to engage in far more useful and meaningful conversations whereas FB is largely a popularity contest… 🙂


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